Home Up

Other Authors in the Oral Tradition

Bushmen ] [ Maori ] Eskimo ] Bantu ] Ifaluk ] North American Indian ] Bedouin ] Yukaghir ] Dekanawidah ]

Click Up For A  Summary Of Each Author





Love For My Native Land

Soliloquy Of A Solitary Woman

Let Me Stay Here 

Soliloquy Of An Invalid With Asthma 

Lament for Tuterangiwhaitiri

Three Men Came By, But Not Te Ikanui 

Lullaby for Maid-of-the-Dawn 

A Lament For His Son

My Wife Gone, I Destroy My House




The Maoris in New Zealand trace their ancestry back to a migration by canoes from Hawaiki, perhaps 800 to 1,000 years ago. Hawaiki has been variously interpreted as Hawaii, the Cook Islands, or the Society Islands. The Maoris are Polynesians and their legends tell of a black race inhabiting New Zealand before their arrival, probably Melanesians. These they conquered and assimilated. In coming to New Zealand, the Polynesians brought with them not only their distinctive farming but also their oral traditions and history, in which songs play an important part.

As the Maoris were a warrior people whose tribes fought each other, many of the songs are laments for men slain in battle, although other types of death or loss can also be the reason for a lament. Defiance and abuse of enemies were other occasions for songs, but love songs were also strongly represented. Another important class of songs was lullabies, which were created for the child of a chief or warrior and traced its lineage back to Hawaiki, including battles and migrations, and perhaps curses and promises of retribution for enemies. All of these songs were mainly composed by women. Men were responsible primarily for ritualistic and priestly chants. In the extracts given here, the author of the sophisticated account of origination that has been handed down through generations (published by Richard Taylor in 1870) is unknown.

Over one thousand Maori songs were written down by English colonists in the second half of the nineteenth century. More recently there has been an effort to extend the collection of songs, to identify their origins, and to correct them where necessary, relying on information from present Maori singers. As these songs are Maori poetry, they employ allusion and figurative speech that reflect the history and culture of the people, and thus require interpretation by the people who created them. The collections are, of course, in the Maori language, and much of the poetry is lost in translation, although the human sentiments remain. In the extracts given here, some words have been inserted to clarify the meaning.


1          Origination

From the conception the increase,

From the increase the swelling,

From the swelling the thought,

From the thought the remembrance,

From the remembrance the consciousness, the desire.

The word became fruitful;

It dwelt with the feeble glimmering;

It brought forth night;

The great night, the long night,

The lowest night, the loftiest night,

The thick night, to be felt,

The night to be touched, the night unseen.

The night following on,

The night ending in death.

From the nothing the begetting,

From the nothing the increase,

From the nothing the abundance,

The power of increasing, the living breath;

It dwelt with the empty space,

It produced the atmosphere which is above us.

The atmosphere which floats above the earth,

The great firmament above us,

the spread out space dwelt with the early dawn,

Then the moon sprang forth;

The atmosphere above dwelt with the glowing sky,

Forthwith was produced the sun,

They were thrown up above as the chief eyes of Heaven:

Then the Heavens became light,

The early dawn, the early day, the mid-day.

The blaze of day from the sky.

The sky which floats above the earth,

Dwelt with Hawaiki,

And produced the islands of Taporapora,

Tauware nikau and Kukupara,

Wawautea and Wihi te rangi ora . . .



2           Love For My Native Land

My love, alas, for my native land

As evening shadows draw near;

I wish there was a canoe being launched

At the headland over there at Rautahi;

Where often the canoe, Te Ruawai, sped

Urged onward by me, before the fall of evening.

In my dreaming I saw

Manuhiri and Te Wharekura;

Awakening to this world,

I was there alone, bowed down.

O friend! In this great longing,

Is there no one who will share it?

For there is no one more melancholy

Than he who yearns for his own native land.



3           Soliloquy Of A Solitary Woman

Fortunate the titi, as it cries in its flight,

It has the company of its mate;

As for me, my bird, I am like

The egg, abandoned by the kiwi at the tawai roots.

They spread and embrace it;

When the mother returns for the hatching,

The progeny is such as me.

It was my own forgetfulness

I did not join in the journey

Of Te Hirau, now disappearing

Over the mountains at Huiarau.

All that remains is to pour out my tears

Like the waters that fall at Ngauemutu.

I alone am left here, alas!

Sentinel of the approaches to Te Matuahu,

To regard the world around,

To glimpse a sail speeding away.

Belated I rise to my feet,

But it is gone in the distance;

Who can overtake it?



4           Let Me Stay Here

Let me stay here
As a canoe landing-place,

And for the paddle splashing

By Chief Te Ahu-karamu,

When he comes within the headland

Of Okatia beach over there!

The waves are curling

Out there on Otaheke current

On which your ships sail,

O high chief and famous warrior,

To where I can but faintly see,

The hills at Rangitoto.

Could it be supposed

That I might swim there

Across these wide seas?

I would rather be placed on

A raft of sea birds

Than drift about with the tide.

Then I would be like a kite aloft

Which can be hauled down

With a cord of twisted fiber.

A notorious one, indeed, am I.

Because of my heart's desires,

And so utterly consumed with love.



5           Soliloquy Of An Invalid With Asthma


                    Ebb then, old tide,

                    Withdrawing swiftly outwards,

While here above I gaze down

On the open porches of Mihimarino hill,

Which I used to climb

In days that are gone by.

Sing your song, oh cicada;

You are a like case to me.

For I am as the bittern in the swamp,

Or the parrot, making its choking sound.

I look and see the star Tawera

Swimming towards the shore.

Hasten to keep vigil

With me, who am distraught,

Reeling about as one demented

Or drunken with liquor;

Like pollen carried on the wind

Or the perehia wafted afar.

I look down and regard myself,

See how twisted are the sinews;

For food does not sustain me,

But seems to pass outside my skin.

So let me remain empty,

Like the porous seaweed on the shore.

Harata Tangikuku


6 Lament for Tuterangiwhaitiri


Each day I wait, each night I long

For my dear one, who does not come

Though the sun has declined far over the land;

The tide has slackened, and is receding down the river.

I am like one borne away on the swift current,

Carried on past the headland of Hauaitunui over there.

Who is it baling with a paddle, making it resound?

It is Tutehurutea, and all of you, dear ones,

Off Mangarara, were heard by me,

Striving desperately and almost reaching the shore;

The canoe it was to be hauled away.

In your anger you reproached me for my tardiness;

But who could have foretold it was to be a day of mourning,

And you went hurriedly, you did not linger.

Now I am left with this weariness;

Striking into my very bones, this long summer's day.

Let me remain here alone, my kinsmen;

Unlike a lusty sneeze he will not return, ah me.



7 Three Men Came By, But Not Te Ikanui


Look, Vega and Canopus

Have risen quietly over the horizon.

Silently too, did Whatitiri draw near;

Your stealthy hand reached out

And gently caressed this body of mine.

But my gaze has feasted

On exquisite tattoo lines adorning

Te Paewa, and also Takaroa,

Rudely captivating both my eyes.

Now I am like the crumbling cliff of Whakatere,

And storm tossed like its sacred peak

Downwards to Te Waka there below.

Ah me, I have yet to see that handsome man,

He that is called Te Ikanui.

It was a longing look from Takaroa,

That entered within my being

And caused a violent turmoil to surge up,

Like the canoe-wrecking current at the headland

Of Wairoa in the north;

But before I overreach. . .

Moving backwards,

I now return to the tribe.


8 Lullaby for Maid-of-the-Dawn


O daughter crying bitterly, stop crying !

Listen to the ocean surge, and do not betray us

To the stealthy foemen moving silently along

The River's-mouth of nearby Ongarue.

Perhaps you may soar like the hawk,

Which often flies swiftly to the west and south.

Your resting-place is on the summit of Te Kape,

There you will draw near the peak of Huariki,

And the pool where live the birds of Tane.

But I think you will not be cherished there.

The tides have ebbed, and the people gone.

In solitude we dwell here, my daughter,

At the pass of Tuhua, astride the trails of war.

Abundant food harvests have your aunts gathered;

Therefore let me now recite the charm of Houmea,

And take for you a cherished name,

You are now ' Maid-of-the-Dawn.'

Now dream on in your couch,

Do not ever step across the sacred beam

To the trail of war.

Never aspire to be as men are,

And you will reduce the stormy winds to a gentle breeze.

How often have my eyes turned

To the land barrier of Mount 'Tautari;

Below there nestles the dwelling house of your father, Rangi',

Where you will be enrobed in a finely woven cloak.

The heart's desire so ended we must return, ah me.



9 A Lament For His Son


Heavy is my burden which I bear alone,

Like the flood waters are my tears,

And welling within are my memories.

Where now are my friends who brought

Me to the summit of the last hilltop

Of Maungatoroire, here to listen

To the roaring of the sea,

At the end of the strand at Waikaraka?

Now comes, perhaps, the last days of greeting

For Te Akakura, who is parted from me.

The spirit will now follow the winding waters

Of Te Murimuri, whilst I lament.



10 My Wife Gone, I Destroy My House


Remain O house of sorrow,

Standing lonely there,

To be gazed at by all men.

When the pillars were up-raised

And the side-walls completed

An imposing sight it was, indeed.

From ancient times was taught

The house-building art of Ruatahuna;

Adorned with sparkling pieces,

like wind-blown petals.

Then came the rainstorm;

Heavy-seas, foaming seas,

And the Red-woven-panels,

The admired-woven-panels

Are now heaped up on the beach.

All this was the pride and joy of me, Turongo;

In which I rejoiced exceedingly.

It was a woman who brought

The axe of jade

To shape the wall-pillars

And dress them to the form desired.

You were fed by your father

From the oven of sighs,

Hence the unsettled sleep.

Your unspoken words, your hidden thoughts,

Subdues the urge to grasp the axe,

And tear-dimmed eyes do but gaze at all

That now lies out there.

Though it was a sheltered resting place

Within the courtyard,

I am now as one unclad, and groaning within,

As I lay me down to sleep.





1 Te Ika A Maui (New Zealand and Its Inhabitants) by Richard Taylor. William MacIntosh, London; H. Ireson Jones, Wanganui, New Zealand, 1870.

2-6 Nga Moteatea (The Songs), Part I by A. T. Ngata. The Polynesian Society Inc., Wellington, New Zealand, 1959. © The Polynesian Society (Inc.), 1959 [Facsimile Editions published 1972 and 1988].

7-10 Nga Moteatea (The Songs), Part II by A. T. Ngata and Pei Te Hurininui. The Polynesian Society Inc., Wellington, New Zealand, 1961. © The Polynesian Society (Inc.) 1961 [Facsimile Editions published 1974 and 1985].

Items 2-10 have been reproduced with the permission of the Polynesian Society, Inc., Aukland, from Parts 1 and 2 of Ngata, A.T. and Pei Te Hurinui, Nga Moteatea, Maori Text Series.

The songs have been adapted slightly by replacing Victorian poeticisms with more standard English (‘perhaps’ for ‘peradventure’, etc.) and inserting words for clarification (‘Okatia beach’ instead of  ‘Okatia’, etc.).

Selection and adaptation © Rex Pay 2001